Political Satire Faces New Perils in Afghanistan
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, Host:
NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson has this story from Kabul.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: This type of parody is what makes Hanif Hum Ghum and his weekly political satire, Zange Khatar, or "Alarm Bell," popular with Afghan television viewers and hated by many Afghan politicians.
HANIF HUM GHUM: (Speaking in Foreign Language)
SARHADDI NELSON: Unidentified Man #1: (Speaking in Foreign Language)
SARHADDI NELSON: Unidentified Man #2: (Speaking in Foreign Language)
SARHADDI NELSON: Saad Mohseni, director of Tolo Television that broadcasts "Alarm Bell," says the program demonstrates media freedom in post-Taliban Afghanistan.
SAAD MOHSENI: Every week, you know, we put something out and the fact that we get away with it is a great achievement for - not just for free press but also for Afghanistan. I think we've learned to laugh at ourselves. We've learned to criticize, but also, I mean, we, you know, "Zange Khatar," in a bizarre way, talks about issues that probably even the news cannot cover.
SARHADDI NELSON: Unidentified Man #3: (Through translator) The goal was to remind her why she was there, of her duty to the nation, of the reason she holds that position, that chair.
SARHADDI NELSON: Unidentified Man #4: (Through translator) We have a saying: don't swing your hand so far that it would hurt someone. So in order to preserve our dignity, to protect people's rights and laws, we want to impose these limitations.
SARHADDI NELSON: Afghanistan's attorney general recently launched his own crackdown. This past Tuesday, dozens of police officers stormed the Tolo TV station and attacked staff members. One newscaster was arrested and later released. His crime: airing a news clip of that day's news conference by the attorney general, which the official felt did not accurately reflect what he'd said. Such developments worry Western officials here. Adrian Edwards, spokesman of the U.N. assistant's mission in Afghanistan:
ADRIAN EDWARDS: There are instances where journalists do go too far. Fact-based reporting has really yet to emerge as a sort of a strong phenomenon here. The lot of it is opinion- based and editorializing. Nonetheless, there is a lot of legitimate journalism.
SARHADDI NELSON: Edwards says Western officials have raised their concerns about the media crackdown with their Afghan counterparts. But, he says, in the end, it's their decision.
HUM GHUM: Tommy(ph), hurry up, please.
(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)
SARHADDI NELSON: Hum Ghum, who prepares for the next skit, is less magnanimous. He says he won't be bullied into stopping his show.
HUM GHUM: (Speaking in Foreign Language)
SARHADDI NELSON: Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Kabul.
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